Back to school.

‘Tis the season for students and Sharpies, teachers and textbooks, bus drivers and backpacks.

New chapters are being written. Tears will be shed. Memories will be made. And that’s just for the first-day-of-school photos we post on social media.

But “Back to School” is more than just a marketing tool to get people to buy more notebooks and gel pens. It’s a season of change, and whatever your relationship to education may be, we all understand how it feels when change breaks into your house and punches you right in the throat.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the classroom.

This week I watched my teenager walk through the doors of a high school with a freshman class five times larger than the population of my hometown. I’m not sure who was more nervous: The father or the son.

Whether it’s school, career or relationships, letting go is hard to do. Change is tricky to counter-punch.

I wonder if this is a tiny taste of how God felt as He sent His Son, Jesus, away for His first day in the school of human life? Talk about a rough district. His incarnation meant enrollment in a school where He would be bullied, spat on, rejected and killed.

We wouldn’t let our beloved daughters and sons near a place so dangerously dysfunctional.

“But God so loved the world that He gave His only beloved Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” Don’t let the familiarity of John 3:16 fool you; God’s love is as painful as it is powerful.

But love is also worth it. The love that allowed Jesus to attend the school of humanity is the same love that breathed life back into His breathless body. The same love that resuscitated Jesus is the same love God has for us.

Think of the love you have for children who are leaving for school. Now multiply it. By infinity. If we were capable of even comprehending a number so vast, it would be only a microscopic fraction of God’s love for us.

I’ll never get my mind around that, but loving people here on earth helps me start to understand. Turns out, love is an effective counter-punch; we can’t beat, change or insulate ourselves from it. What we can do, however, is love people through it. Even when it’s painful.

The Father models this love. So does the Son. Jesus loved His disciples, even though He knew a painful season of change was ahead. One of them would flat-out betray Him. If you knew that sort of pain was ahead, would you keep loving someone?

I wouldn’t. And that’s why I would make an awful savior. I wouldn’t save anyone but myself, (and the select people I think deserve it).

Jesus doesn’t operate that way. He knows we can’t save ourselves, so He came to save us Himself. He knows we don’t deserve His selfless love, that’s why He gives with grace — free for the taking people who are constantly getting beaten up by change.

“Here is the world,” says author Frederick Buechner. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

With beautiful and terrible things all around us, God’s perfect love has the power to cast out all fear. (1 John 4:18) Even though back to school might be bittersweet and life is always changing, love will always be winning.

– Gregg Madsen is the Lead Pastor of Steadfast Gretna. Reach him at gmadsen@steadfastgretna.org

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